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Purple Color Symbolism and Meaning

Purple is any of a large variety of colors with a hue between blue and red. Although it’s made by combining these two colors which belong to the visible light spectrum, purple itself is not. In fact, it’s a non-spectral color which means it doesn’t have its own light wavelength and it doesn’t belong to the colors of the rainbow either. However, it’s a unique and gorgeous color that’s in popular use today in all its numerous shades.

In this article, we’ll be taking a brief look at the history of the color purple, what it symbolizes and why it’s called the ‘mysterious color’.

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What Does the Color Purple Symbolize?

What does purple mean

The color purple is usually associated with luxury, royalty, nobility, ambition and power. It also represents creativity, wisdom, dignity, wealth, pride and magic. Many famous magicians throughout history donned the color purple because of its unique, mysterious look as a way to catch the attention of their audience.

Purple is sacred. Purple is a color that occurs rarely in nature. Therefore, it’s often viewed as having a sacred meaning. Purple flowers like orchids, lilacs and lavender are considered to be precious and delicate because of their lovely uncommon color.

Purple gives a sense of freedom. It’s often used in rustic and bohemian clothing and decorative motifs.

Purple is a feminine color. Purple has long been associated with wealthy, refined women and symbolizes femininity, grace and elegance. The color is usually preferred by women while only a very small percentage of men do.

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Purple is both warm and cool. Since the color purple is made by mixing together a strong cool color (blue) and a strong warm one (red), it retains both cool and warm properties.

Purple is royal. The color purple is still strongly associated with royalty especially because of its history. It’s one of the toughest and most expensive color dyes to produce due to its rare occurrence in nature.

Positive and Negative Aspects of the Color Purple

The color purple has a variety of effects on the body and mind. It can uplift spirits, calm the nerves and the mind and create feelings of spirituality. The color can also increase your sensitivity while encouraging imagination and bringing out your creative side.

The downside of too much purple, especially darker shades, can evoke feelings of sadness, gloom and frustration. Being surrounded by an excess of purple can bring out negative characteristics like irritability, arrogance and impatience. However, too little of the color can also cause negativity, apathy, powerlessness and loss of self-worth. 

Experts say that purple is best worn in moderation, especially at the workplace, since too much of it can imply that you’re not someone to be taken seriously. Since purple is a color that very rarely appears in nature, it can be viewed as a fake color and the result is that by extension, so will you.

Symbolism of Purple in Different Cultures

  • Purple is most associated with royalty and power in Europe and is used by the British Royal Family and other royalty on special occasions. Purple also symbolizes mourning in certain settings.
  • In Japan, purple is strongly associated with the Japanese emperor and aristocracy.
  • The Chinese see purple as a color that represents healing, spiritual awareness, abundance and stretch. A more reddish shade of purple symbolizes fame and luck.
  • In Thailand, purple is a color of mourning worn by widows as a sign of grief.
  • In the USA, purple is associated with bravery. The Purple Heart is a military decoration given in the name of the President to all those who are killed or wounded during service.

Personality Color Purple – What It Means

Girl wearing purple color dress

Having purple as your favorite color can say a great deal about your personality so let’s take a look at the most common characteristics found in personality color purples (a.k.a people who love purple).

  • People who love purple are kind, compassionate, understanding and supportive. They tend to think of others before thinking about themselves but people tend to take advantage of them.
  • They’re free and gentle spirits. They’re rather sensitive to hurtful comments from other people but they hardly ever show it.
  • Personality color purples have a tranquil and peaceful quality about them.
  • They’re usually introverted and are often thought of as shy although that’s not the case.
  • They are idealistic and can sometimes be impractical. They generally prefer not to look at the ugly truth of reality.
  • They’re generous givers and don’t ask for much in return except for friendship.
  • They like having the best of everything, so they tend to aim high.
  • They usually judge others characters well and can sum them up quite accurately. However, they prefer to see the best in everyone.

The Use of Purple in Fashion and Jewelry

purple color jewelry ring

The color purple remains highly popular in the world of fashion, as a sophisticated, glamorous color. It’s commonly flaunted in numerous shades from pastel lilacs to deep, rich violets. While purple can be a difficult color to match with other colors, it does go well with slightly darker shades of yellow, greens or oranges. Purple tends to flatter cool skin tones, but as there are many shades to choose from, you’re bound to find a shade that suits you.

In terms of jewelry, purple gemstones like amethysts, tanzanite and fluorite, have been used since ancient times. Amethysts were once considered as valuable as diamonds and were highly coveted. Purple jewelry, like engagement rings, stand out and easily impress. However, it’s easy to go overboard with a highly visible color like purple, as a little goes a long way.

Purple Through The Ages – History and Use

We’ve had a close look at the symbolism of purple, but when did purple begin to be used and how was it perceived throughout the ages?

Purple in Prehistory

While we’re not sure exactly when the color purple originated, evidence shows that it was first seen during the Neolithic era in certain works of art. The Pech Merle and Lascaux Cave paintings were done by artists using sticks of hematite powder and manganese, dating far back to 25,000 BC.

In the 15th century BC, people from two main cities of Phoenicia, called Sidon and Tyre, were creating a purple dye from the spiny dye-murex, a type of sea snail. This dye was a deep rich purple called ‘Tyrian’ purple and is mentioned in both the Aeneid of Virgil and Iliad of Homer.

Making Tyrian purple wasn’t an easy task since it required thousands of snails to be removed from their shells and soaked for some time after which one of its tiny glands was removed, the juice extracted and kept in a basin. The basin was placed in sunlight which gradually turned the juice to a white, then green and finally a violet color.

The color changing process had to be stopped at the right time to get the desired color and although its hue varied somewhere between violet and crimson, it was always a bright, rich and lasting color. Naturally, the pigment was rare and highly valuable. It became known as the color of kings, nobility, magistrates and priests during that time.

Purple in Ancient Rome

The Toga praetexta was a simple white toga with a wide purple stripe on the border, worn by Roman boys who weren’t yet of age. It was also popularly worn by magistrates, priests and some citizens as well. Later on, a slightly different version of the Toga came in solid purple and embroidered with gold. This was worn by magistrates who handled the public gladiatorial games, the consuls and the emperor on very special occasions.

Purple in Ancient China

The Ancient Chinese made purple dye not through the snail but from a plant called purple gromwell. The trouble with this dye was that it didn’t adhere to fabric easily, which made the dyed fabrics quite expensive. Back then crimson was one of the primary colors in China and purple was secondary. However, in the 6th century the colors swapped ranks and purple became the more important color.

Purple in Carolingian Europe

During the early Christian era, Byzantine rulers used the color purple as their imperial color.  The Empresses had a special ‘Purple Chamber’ to give birth in and the emperors that were born there were called those that were ‘born to the purple’.

In Western Europe, Emperor Charlemagne wore a mantle made of Tyrian purple for his coronation ceremony and later on, was buried in a shroud made of the same color. However, the color lost its status with the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and scarlet dye made from scale insects became the new royal color.

Purple in the Middle Ages and Renaissance Period

In the 15th century, cardinals switched from wearing Tyrian purple robes to wearing scarlet ones because the dye had become unavailable after Constantinople’s dye works were destroyed.  Purple was worn by the Bishops and archbishops whose status was lower than that of the cardinals, but it wasn’t Tyrian purple. Instead, the cloth was first dyed with indigo blue and then overlaid with red kermes dye to get the desired color.

Purple in the 18th and 19th Centuries

During the 18th century, purple was worn only by rulers like Catherine the Great and members of the aristocracy since it was expensive. However, in the 19th century it changed due to the creation of a synthetic aniline dye produced by a British student called William Henry Perkin. He originally wanted to make synthetic quinine but instead, he produced a purple shade which was called ‘mauveine’ and later shortened to ‘mauve’.

Mauve became fashionable very quickly after Queen Victoria donned a silk gown dyed with the color, attending the Royal Exhibition in 1862. The dye was the first of many modern industrial dyes that completely changed the chemical industry as well as fashion.

Purple in the 20th and 21st Centuries

In the 20th century, purple once again became strongly connected with royalty. It was worn by Elizabeth II at her coronation and George VI in his official portraits. It was also becoming strongly associated with the Women’s Suffrage movement and the Feminist movement in the ‘70s. For example, it’s the color used for the lesbian flag.

Purple neckties became popular in the 21st century since it looked great with the blue colored business suits worn among business and political leaders.

In Brief

The color purple is a highly meaningful hue and can mean different things in different religions or cultures. It’s a strong feminine color, but is also somewhat popular among men who like making a statement and standing out. Although connected with royalty and considered a valuable and special color through most of history, purple today is a color for the masses, popular in fashion and interior design.

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Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.